I haven't been posting much lately, so to avoid the pressure of doing full reviews of the books I've read recently, I'm going to list some books with brief comments and recommendations.: Here are the first 3:
Becoming Inspectyor Chen, by Qiu Xiaolong: The story follows 2 tracks, one in the present, in which Inspector Chen faces a dilemma of conscience more profound than the murder mystery he is (covertly) investigating. The other is the detective's backstory, beginning in the miseries of the Cultural Revolution and returning frequently to a lane of traditional houses that also figures in the contemporary story. The style of the writing is typical for this series, reading as if it had been translated from formal Chinese, and also typical is the vivid portrayal of contemporary China in all its aspects.
The Foreign Girls, by Sergio Olguín: This second novel by Argentine author Olguín follows the same character as the first (Veronica is the character, The Fragility of Bodies is the book), the independent-minded journalist who is now taking off some time after the traumatic first case, involving trains, murder, and the exploitation of children. While traveling in the country, outside her usual haunts in Buenos Aires, she becomes involved with a pair of women from Europe, one Scandinavian and one Italian, who are traveling together. The book has a strange structure in the beginning, first going over the beginning of the story in e-mails that Veronica sends to a friend, then in a normal narrative going over all the same ground, before going beyond the e-mails at the point of the crisis that Veronica is telling, the murder of the 2 young women. The book is propulsive in its momentum and compulsive in its hold on the reader, as well as,violent, and explicit in the violence of men against women.
The Darkness Knows, by Arnaldur Indri∂ason: Indri∂ason has begun a new series that has aspects of 2 big shifts in Icelandic history and culture: the occupation of the country by the U.S. during WWII and the tourist boom after the financial crisis. The main character of this book, Konrád, whose career in the police began in the first of these two periods and has just ended in the second. He is drawn out of retirement when the corpse of a missing person that he had fruitlessly searched for years before suddenly turns up in a melting glacier. The plot is meticulous (as always with Indri∂ason) in its depiction of the investigation, and leands relentlessly toward a moral dilemma that the reader will not see coming.
The story concerns a businessman from Milan, sent to a small town in Sicily to finalize a land deal that would allow his company to open a branch in the south. But the journey is plagued with difficulties from the beginning: his train breaks down and he is late arriving in the town, only to find that his contact there has been shot dead. From there, he wanders from one hostile encounter to another.
The narrative is in the first person, and there are hints that the narrator is creating some of the hostility himself, through his manner and attitude, And when the obstacles to his mission seem insurmountable, he remains in the town, courting hatred and danger, well beyond any reasonable time, despite insults and injuries.
The text is very detailed, evoking the claustrophobic Sicilian town vividly. The story is told clearly, though without a lot of forward motion, and I was pulled right along to the end. A major theme and characteristic element of the story (and this is hardly a spoiler) is that the "transaction" of the title never happens. The ending is, in fact, quite puzzling, leaving the reader to decide if the narrator is suicidal, infatuated, or perhaps insane.
Most of the book is set in the present, with frequent flashbacks to explain Cane Canessa's career fighting the terrorists. And most of the present-day is the ex-cop's private search for the reasons behind his brother's death. The investigation is an interesting tour through the Italian justice system, and the story has lots of intrigue and a good bit of shooting. Overall the book is a satisfying introduction to what has become a series featuring perrone, though I have a couple of reservations. The first thing is that young women seem always to be compellingly attracted sexually to the old men ocupying most of the key roles in the story. Some of the wome of the women clearly have financial motives, a few have professional motives, but especially in Canessa's case, young (much younger than him) women are throwing themselves at him in a way that stretches credibility and also reinforces what is altogether a limited sccope of action for the women in the book. Canessa also possesses superhuman powers, it seems, when people are trying to kill him (in a shower of fire from AK47s, for example), but that's just a quibble.
So I would recommend the book for a glimpse into a segment of Italian history, but I would hope for some more realistic and sympathetic female characters in the sequels.
Black is a classic revenge story, though we don't know the details of the original offense until the end. The bride systematically murders the men on her list, but the police cannot find the connection among them. Each murder occupies a chapter, with the leading lady taking various roles in each. Some of the means of execution seem a bit far-fetched (she doesn't plan them so. much as seize on the means at hand, and finding the creative means that she uses stretches the imagination of the reader a bit). But Woorich is a master of the genre, and holds our attention nonetheless, and the final chapter includes several surprises, leading us through to the end. The setting varies from urban to rural to wilderness retreat, all vividly of the era of the '40s.
Fools' Gold evokes the California of the '50s, but not the glittery Hollywood California: the setting is hardscrabblek semi-urban, with a link to various criminal gangs of the area and as far afield as Las Vegas. But the focus is on a young man on the make, self confident and charismatic, who seduces an old friend and a young woman to help him steal a stash of money that the girl knows about (in the house of her guardian, an older woman).
In classic noir fashion, the caper starts almost immediately to slip out of control and then tip over into chaos. The story has an inevitability anchored in the personalities of the main characters and in the social milieu. One interesting aspect of the novel is that it has a long tail--once the caper has already played out, Hichens follows her characters as they disperse around California and each in his or her own way deal with the collapse of the scheme and of their future.
Godard made the story into a charming paen to youth, with a famous dance sequence in a bar and a furious race through the Louvre. French milieu matches the American original, in terms of class and misfortune, but Hichens original is darker, more true to noir and to the story itself.